Select Committee on Science and Technology Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Central Committee for University Dental Teachers and Research Workers

  1.  The Central Committee for University Dental Teachers and Research Workers (CCUDT&RW) is an autonomous committee of the British Dental Association. It is concerned with all matters that affect university dental teachers and research workers, who are dentally clinically qualified, and with dental education and research. Clinical academics in dentistry are based in the university schools of dentistry of which there are nine in England, one in Wales, two in Scotland and one in Northern Ireland. In addition, clinical academics are based in the Eastman Dental Institute in London and Edinburgh Dental Institute, both of which are concerned with postgraduate education and research. In addition a small number of dentally qualified academic staff are employed in universities without dental schools. Dentally qualified research workers are also employed in research units and in industry.

  2.  Research is essential to future developments in dentistry and underpins dental education. UK dental schools must continue to strive to maintain their position amongst the world leaders in all areas of dental research. The UK spends a much smaller figure per head of population on dental research than many other leading industrialised countries do. CCUDT&RW is concerned about the general lack of funding for dental research in this country.

  3.  CCUDT&RW welcome the benefits deriving from the Research Assessment Exercises organised by the HEFCs. However we believe the value of future assessments using the same approach will be limited. There were ten institutions in England in which Unit of Assessment 4 (Clinical Dentistry) was assessed in the 2001 round. Of these, six gained either a 5 or 5* rating, the remaining four obtained a 4. In 1996 three gained a 5 or 5*, four a 4, three 3a and 1 3b. With this overall improvement in the research rating for dentistry and no extra money being made available to fund this improvement then the result will be that there will be no reward for doing well only a penalty for doing less well. This "punitive" approach is very demoralising for all of the institutions. The resultant reduction in funding to weaker schools makes it harder for them to improve thus exacerbating the problem.

  4.  We believe the whole exercise is too costly in terms of the time and resource spent in preparing individual submissions and for the panels' activities. Given the heavy teaching loads in dentistry the very successful outcome of the 2001 RAE is most commendable.

  5.  The numbers returned by individual dental schools varied enormously. Research active staff whose research profile did not fit that of the school feel undervalued and their future ability to attract funding may be compromised because of their lack of inclusion.

  6.  In addition because of the high clinical teaching load in dentistry it is inevitable that there will be research inactive staff. Indeed without these staff to support teaching activities, it is uncertain that the research active staff would be as successful in achieving the high ratings.

  7.  Dental schools must not become teaching only. There must be an appropriate mix of educational and research activity within the school so that education is enhanced.

  8.  The 2001 RAE provides clear evidence that academic dentistry in the UK compares outstandingly well with the rest of biomedicine and other university disciplines so that it clearly and objectively justifies more cash. The Government can have confidence that this will be well spent, with real advances in basic and applied knowledge, and real impact on public health.

  9.  We recognise that there must be ongoing reviews of research output to reward quality so that the current funding allocations do not become fossilised.

  10.  We believe now is the appropriate time to consider instituting a major change to the way in which the HEFCs' research funding is organised. We believe there are long term dangers in research being directed solely by the need to gain a high rating.

  11.  We suggest the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee should consider recommending:

    —  The introduction of a scheme with a lighter touch.

    —  The introduction of a new funding formula that is more transparent and recognises the commitments of all dental clinical academic staff to teaching as well as research.

    —  The introduction of targeted funding for pump priming research in weaker institutions.

January 2002

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